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Fine dust even more dangerous than thought

The smallest particles from exhaust fumes and other combustion processes can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause damage throughout the body. Recent research shows that they also attack the brain and reduce cognitive performance. In addition, free oxygen radicals formed in particulate matter are enormously dangerous.

The latest results from the Normal University in Beijing on the subject of fine dust show that the particles not only cause cardiovascular diseases and lung damage, but also attack the brain. There they have a negative effect on cognitive performance. Fine dust makes you stupid. The study compared the concentration of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide in 86 Chinese cities and 162 counties in connection with the cognitive performance of selected individuals and families. According to the results, it is mainly language ability that is affected. If the air was particularly bad over a one-week period, test scores on verbal tests dropped by an average of 0.287 points. If the test persons were exposed to bad air over a period of 3 years, their verbal abilities even dropped by an average of 1.132 points. In general, men were more affected than women in the study. With increasing age, the effect of reduced cognitive performance was also clearly more pronounced in men. This could not be observed in women. Similar, but less pronounced results were found in the mathematics tests.

Researchers in Switzerland also came to new conclusions about the effects of fine dust on the human body. The results of a research project of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Würenlingen show that free oxygen radicals are formed directly in the fine dust particles and have a damaging effect on the body. The radicals are very reactive and attack the tissue. This oxidative stress can trigger inflammation in the lungs, as well as asthma and other respiratory diseases. It was already known that fine dust, for example, can form free radicals in connection with the surface fluid of the respiratory tract. The researchers now showed that the radicals are also formed directly in the fine dust itself. Especially in normal weather conditions around 20 degrees Celsius, fine dust forms many of these radicals and is very dangerous.

Fine dust is still a big problem in Europe, as reported last week. Even cities with environmental zones continue to fight against too high concentrations of the fine particles. The Po Valley in Italy, for example, is particularly affected, as are areas in Eastern Europe. Even in the densely populated, industrially active Ruhr area in Germany, the levels are high despite large-scale environmental zones.

The new findings therefore call for even stricter environmental zones, and measures that give people an alternative to driving. People must be protected from the deadly particles.